My Place in the Sun, May 18: A Treasured Gift

My place in the sun

On Friday, May 5, I celebrated a Farewell Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Binghamton remembering the compassionate care the Daughters of Charity have provided at Lourdes Hospital. In its 92-year history, 365 Daughters have served at Lourdes. They truly have been a treasured gift to Lourdes and the thousands of people the hospital has served. They will be missed. Several of the Daughters of Charity, staff from Lourdes, members of the civic community and friends of the Daughters of Charity were present for the Mass. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed here.

We gather this afternoon to celebrate the Daughters of Charity and their ministry at Lourdes Hospital. In 1925, concerned citizens purchased the Corbett Mansion on Riverside Drive (now the site of Lourdes’ main campus) to become a 25-bed hospital. Bishop Daniel Curley asked the Daughters, pioneers in Catholic health and hospital service, to come to Binghamton to manage the new hospital. Thus began the Daughters of Charity ministry of compassionate care at Lourdes, continued for 92 years.  Their presence at Lourdes and in other ministries within our diocese has been a treasured gift. 

   At first glance when I looked at the readings for today, I thought they had little to do with the occasion that brings us together this afternoon — a Farewell Mass for the Daughters. More reflection on the readings, however, suggested a message that I believe is applicable for today.

   Have you noticed that sometimes life takes a sudden and/or unexpected turn? I know that has happened in my life — not once but a few times —  and I suspect it has happened in yours also. In our first reading, Saul’s life certainly was turned upside down. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised and a Pharisee well versed in the Law. Paul was proud of his Jewish heritage and committed to wiping out the followers of “the Way,” namely those who were following Jesus. 

   There are many lessons we can take from the account of Paul’s conversion. Allow me to share one that I think fits our gathering today. God has a plan for each of us. Occasionally, His plan may disrupt what we have determined our plans are or should be. His plans may change the direction of our lives and ask something new from us or something different from which we are accustomed. Sometimes the plan may be contrary to what we want; sometimes it requires us to embrace the Lord’s way with renewed faith. In all of this, however, God is with us every step of the way just as surely as He was with Saul when he was knocked to the ground, struck blind and eventually became Paul the tireless missionary disciple.

   Like Paul, we are God’s chosen instruments called to carry Jesus’ name into the everyday circumstances of our lives — even when the everyday circumstances uproot us and take us on a new path and to new places. Today’s Gospel offers us such encouragement. In the “true food” and the “true drink” of Jesus’ flesh and blood we encounter Jesus. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our faith leads us to see Jesus in the breaking of the bread. In every Eucharist, we have the assurance that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him. . . . Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:56, 58).

   Life unfolds in unexpected ways. When I began my priestly ministry, I never dreamed there would be a shortage of priests. I did not expect there would come a time when parishes would have to be linked, merged or clustered — whatever term is used to describe fewer priests ministering to numerous faith communities. I imagine it was the same for you. In your early years in religious life, you did not think about withdrawing from schools or hospitals. You forged ahead staffing them and serving in a variety of  ministries when you were asked to do so. We just did not expect what we are now experiencing.

   Yet in all of this, we must remain people of hope. God’s plan may be unfolding in unexpected and even, according to our wishes, undesired ways but it is His plan. “Jeremiah says it so well. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you . . . plans for your welfare . . . plans to give you a future full of hope” (Jer 29:11).

   Today is bittersweet. Bitter because you, dear sisters, are leaving Lourdes. This is a loss for us. Your ministry — and even more important, the witness of your lives — has been a shining light of the love of God and neighbor to which we are all called. As I noted previously you have been a treasured gift to Lourdes Hospital. We will miss you.

   Nevertheless, every moment can be a graced moment for those who see with the eyes of faith.  Today is also a sweet moment — a gratifying one, a rewarding one — because an ending allows us to remember the many blessings we have received and to go forward to something new, the place where God’s plan takes us. We may not be sure what all the details of the “new” will be — but we believe that every day we can be fed at the table of the Lord. Here we find the strength to move on to whatever the Lord has in store for us.

   I promise you a place in my prayers and ask that you remember me.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.